As entertaining as it is to conduct autopies of unloved and/or forgotten funnybook properties, it’s also important to step back periodically and reflect upon some favorite comics and characters of mine that never got the attention and love they rightly deserved. This is why I set aside the month of December for Nobody Else’s Favorites, a holiday season flip of Armagideon Time’s most popular feature.
We’re going to kick things off this year with The Liberty Project…
…a short-lived series co-created by Kurt Busiek and James W. Fry and published by Eclipse from 1987 through 1988.
The Liberty Project was a government initative designed to provide vocational rehabiliation for young superhumans who had fallen afoul of the law. In exchange for their services, the team’s members were given an opportunity to straighten themselves out before they fell into habitual supervillainy.
Though the core concept — supercriminals turned government agents — echoed that of post-Legends revamp of the Suicide Squad, The Liberty Project was a entirely different beast in terms of tone.
Where DC’s rightfully praised classic was a black-ops affair rooted in the gritty and conspiratorial realm of late-1980s geopolitics, The Liberty Project took its cues from the Roy Thomas/Chris Claremont model for superteam books. Its tone was lighter — yet not without substance — and both the team dynamics and narrative hewed closer to the “classic” models associated with Silver Age Avengers and Bronze Age “new” X-Men tales…as well as anticipating Busiek’s later work on the Thunderbolts franchise.
Take a diverse set of personalities — from smirking delinquent (Slick) to conscientious penitent (Crackshot) to hot-headed wild child (Cimarron) to anti-authoritarian hothead (Burnout) — and play them off each other as empathetic and hardnosed parental figures attempt to impose some form of order upon their charges.
Throw in some semi-omnipotent alien adversaries, a problematic new teammate and a bunch of exploding police cars, and you’ve got some fun reading that doesn’t reinvent the wheel as much as put an engaging spin on it.
Though The Liberty Project was ostensibly part of Eclipse’s abortive attempts to establish a shared superheroic universe, the actual bleedthough was limited to a handful of passing references…
…a single guest appearance by Valkyrie from Airboy, and the team’s involvement in the baffling Total Eclipse crossover event. (At the time, I didn’t think twice about the fact that an indie publisher would feel misguidedly obligated to ape the Big Two’s marketing stunts. In hindsight, however, it makes me profoundly depressed.)
Though a return of the Liberty Project was teased at the end of the in the eight (and final) issue of their ongoing series, the team’s sole subsequent appearance — not including the Total Eclipse nonsense — was in the Busiek-helmed TeenAgents series from Topps’ “Kirbyverse” imprint in 1993. It was a pleasant surprise (as was TeenAgents in general), but was more of a wistful sendoff than a promise for the future.
There were murmurings, fueled by the fannish will to speculate, that the team would pop up in Busiek’s Astro City franchise, but nothing came of it. It was for the best, really. The past may be prologue, but perhaps not as literally as some folks tend to assume it to be.
The Liberty Project is very much an early work, a testbed for trying out ideas and refining creative voices. It’s also a fun read full of dated fashions, old school super-melodrama, and enough rough-edged charm to thaw my frozen little excuse for a heart.